A Washington native was celebrated with voice, orchestra, combo and dancing feet in a three-quarters-full Cramton auditorium at Howard University last night in "Ellington Revisited," a benefit for WPFW-FM.
The 12-piece Charlie Hampton Big Band opened with Ellington instrumentals that featured the leader's lyrical alto and curved soprano saxophones, the breathy tenor saxophone of Donald Dial, the Ellington-echoing piano of Jim Allen and the solid, sometimes rambunctious drumming of Harold Mann.
June Norton, one of three former Ellington vocalists represented, with pianist John Malachi accompanying, offered a study of contrasts with a delicately whispered "Sophisticated Lady" and a mock cynical and winking "Love for Sale."
Jimmy McPhail, backed by his trio of tenor saxophonist George Botts, organist Jackie Harriston and drummer Courtney Brooks, exuded authority on his opening "New York, New York." His strong gifts for communicating a ballad were displayed on "Satin Doll" and "In My Solitude" and his closing a cappella "Come Sunday" embraced hymn and poetry.
Tap dancers Brother Black and Ellington alumnus Bunny Briggs, both virtuoso in their skills, approached their art differently. Black's attack was exuberant and hard-hitting, Briggs' had a floating quality. Their separate programs were vignettes from life, as full of symbolism as they were bubbling with beat.
Al Hibbler, an eccentric singer of riveting emotional impact, frequently descended to quarry-deep rumbles and sometimes slowed his cadence to a caterpillar crawl. Despair and resignation, exhilaration and hope shared roles in his dramatic delivery of "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me," "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" and other Ellington classics. Malachi, a former accompanist for Hibbler, backed him up.